By G. Thomas Vick Jr.
When disasters like Hurricane Harvey strike Texas, the State Bar of Texas serves as a hub of legal and recovery-related resources for Texans and Texas lawyers (visit texasbar.com/disasters).
First, the State Bar operates a legal hotline—(800) 504-7030—that helps people find answers to basic legal questions and locate recovery resources in the wake of a disaster. The toll-free hotline is answered in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese and directly connects callers with legal aid providers in their area.
Callers can find help with problems such as replacing lost documents, answering insurance questions, tenant/landlord matters, and consumer protection issues such as avoiding price-gouging and contractor scams. Those who qualify for further assistance are matched with Texas lawyers who have volunteered to provide free, limited legal help.
Texas property owners should be aware that House Bill 1774, passed by the 85th Texas Legislature, will change the law regarding how legal actions for certain insurance claims are handled, including some claims for property damages or losses caused by natural disasters. If you need to make an insurance claim related to Hurricane Harvey, you should study how the law may affect you. Claims made before September 1, 2017, will be subject to current law; those filed on or after September 1will fall under the new law.
The State Bar also reminds the public that solicitation of a potential legal case, or barratry, is a crime unless the lawyer has a family relationship with you or you have been a client. It is also a crime for a non-lawyer employee or representative to solicit you unless a previous relationship exists. We encourage members of the public to report any prohibited contacts by lawyers or their representatives, whether in person, telephone, or otherwise, to your local law enforcement authority or the State Bar of Texas at (877) 953-5535. If you need a lawyer, contact the State Bar’s Lawyer Referral & Information Service at (800) 252-9690 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.
Finally, the State Bar works with the three Legal Services Corporation-funded legal aid agencies in the state—Lone Star Legal Aid, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid—to coordinate attorney volunteers and communications. The bar serves as a clearinghouse to connect attorney volunteers with disaster-related service opportunities in their communities. If you are an attorney and would like to assist Harvey victims, go to texasbar.com/attorneyvolunteer
The State Bar of Texas is here to serve you. You can find additional recovery resources at texasbar.com/disasters.